by Dennis Dalman
Sex trafficking is one of those vile, disgusting crimes most people would prefer to think is not happening here – not in central Minnesota.
But, in fact, central Minnesota is, after the Twin Cities, second in the state for the prevalence of sex trafficking, and it’s a virtual training ground for the vicious sexual exploitation of women and girls, according to CeCe Terlouw, executive director of Terebinth Refuge.
In an extraordinary series of investigative stories last year, the St. Cloud Times proved how extensive the crime is in just about every city in central Minnesota. The disturbing revelations included the most sordid, demeaning and violent treatment of women and girls by pimps and male customers in motels, apartment units, rented homes and in vehicles. All right here in central Minnesota.
Others, too, have noted the shocking prevalence of sex-trafficking. For example, Sartell writer Dennis Herschbach wrote a novel entitled A River Through Two Harbors based on meticulous research into sex-trafficking in the Duluth area.
Terlouw is all too aware of the widespread prevalence of sex-trafficking in this area – and worldwide. Her organization, Terebinth Refuge, helps sex-trafficked women and girls transition from their grim exploitations into a healthy – hopefully happy – new way of life, of living.
That is why Terlouw and others are trying hard to raise funds for two homes in central Minnesota: a shelter and a refuge for sex-trafficked women. In an interview with the Newsleader, Terlouw explained what is so desperately needed.
“There is help available for girls (because they are minors),” Terlouw said. “But there is a need to help women, and right now there just isn’t much for them in the way of shelter or transition. We are starting with one property we now have, though there is nothing inside of it yet. We hope to start with nine women in that house. And then we hope to have another house by spring for another eight women. One will be a shelter; the other will be a house for the transition process. There is a need for these shelters and homes all over the world.”
Terebinth Refuge is a Christ-centered non-profit shelter and transition home(s) that will provide holistic services to women 18 years and older who are escaping sexual exploitation and sex trafficking and who can then transition to a life of health, stability and independence.
Terebinth Refuge is now having a drive to obtain household items for its shelter home and transition home. What’s needed are linens, kitchen items, furniture – virtually anything a homey house would need. There is also a need for money donations, and grants are being sought from a variety of sources, Terlouw noted.
For more information on what is needed and how to help, visit the Terebinth website at terebinchrefuge.org.
Checks can be sent to: Terebinth Refuge House Fund, P.O. Box 5035, St. Cloud, Minn. 56302.
The problem, the crime
What is shocking – almost unbelievable – to most people is the average age for females being drawn into sex-trafficking is 12 to 14 years old, Terlouw noted.
Such girls, abused in every conceivable way, are plagued with low self-esteem, a lack of social and work skills, self-contempt, a total lack of independence and a loss of will.
They begin to feel trapped, almost like animals kept in cages.
Some girls and women who are sex-trafficked are expected to have sex as much as a dozen or more times a day with “customers.” Most of the customers are middle-aged, married men, often with children of their own.
Besides the unhealthy and degrading sex work, sex-trafficked women are so controlled by pimps they are expected to steal, to rob, to extort to get money, either for their own addictions or to fatten the pocketbooks of their pimps. As a result, sex-trafficking is intricately related to other crimes: drugs and drug distribution, thefts, burglaries and check forgeries.
Pimps force their “sex slaves” to get high on drugs. The resultant addictions help the pimps keep their “workers” under their control.
To combat sex-trafficking, experts on the subject say there must be a network approach that involves law enforcement, social workers, child-protection services and safe houses of the kind Terebinth Refuge is planning to open.
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said sex-trafficking has occurred and likely still happens in virtually every city in central Minnesota. Shan Wang is the assistant chief of the criminal division for Stearns County. He, Kendall and law-enforcement personnel all agree arrests and convictions cannot eradicate the crime. They agree all people in the area must become aware of the crime, that it’s indeed happening here and then learn as much as possible about what to be on the lookout for.
“We can do something,” Kendall said. “If you see something, say something. Dial 911. Say something to your schools. Call the cops. We can stop this. We can.”
Cynthia “CeCe” Terlouw is determined to help girls and women escape the horrors of sex-trafficking.
Raised in Arden Hills, she graduated from Mounds View High School and received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where she received a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation with a minor in dance.
With a passion for helping others, she worked at Home of the Good Shepherd, Outreach Group Homes and the Hennepin County Home School.
She joined the Heartland Girls Ranch near Benson in 1992. In her 24 years of work for that program, she was its executive director and director of strategic development. Heartland was recognized as a “model program” throughout the state for its services for at-risk and sexually exploited/trafficked girls.
Terlouw also served on the Safe Harbor Statewide Advisory Panel and is a member of the stateside Human Trafficking Task Force.
Terlouw is the author of Heartland Girls’ Ranch Hearts for Freedom Project: A Resource Guide for Working with Sexually Exploited Youth & Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law.
She frequently speaks at public and private gatherings because, as she often emphasizes, the more people become aware and then educated about the crime of sex trafficking, the more its victims can be helped and the more the criminals can be put out of their sordid, cruel exploitations.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.